Over the years, without realizing it, I have seen a great many films made by director-producer Brij. Mostly this is due to the fact that he made Excellent Use of Helen in most of them, and as many of you know Helen was one of my first obsessions-within-the-obsession for Hindi cinema. I have even written about six Brij movies on this blog, although my favorite ones (Yakeen and Night In London) haven’t made it yet, and except for Chori Mera Kaam I find that my reviews here have ranged from tepid approval to rather scathing disapproval.
I think at this point I am qualified to say this about Brij: he made films which have super-sweet potential and cracktastic detail (and Helen!) but often become just plain bewildering by the end, when he drives the plot off a cliff to its explosive death, or—to use a phrase coined by Todd and Beth—Death By WTF. It can be really disappointing. So I am very happy to report that he actually held this one together pretty well, and it is highly entertaining—you just have to pay close attention!
Two orphaned young brothers, Shankar and Shyam (Master Rajesh Valecha and Master Ripple), are separated when the older Shyam is arrested for illegal deeds which he is carrying out because little Shankar is being held hostage by bad guy Hiralal. Shankar frees himself and runs after the police jeep as his brother is driven away.
He starts down this path to a bad end immediately, snatching the bag of money from Hiralal and running, turning into a grown-up and nattily dressed Raaj Kumar as he goes.
Shankar is now best friends with ACP Rajesh Verma (Navin Nischol) and has been sort of adopted by Verma’s mother (Purnima). Their friendship does not preclude Rajesh from planning to arrest Shankar when he has the opportunity, in order to set him on the straight and narrow. Shankar is living up to his childhood vow, and has become a big thorn in the side of crime boss JK (an orange-blond bewigged and frightening-plaid-suited Anwar Hussain) and his henchmen, one of whom is named John (Shetty—again with hair!).
He steals shipments which JK has paid for and sells them back to him again. This makes JK apoplectic—I am sure you can imagine the colorful visuals! It is also bankrupting him, making a group of sheikhs and one token gora to whom he owes money very mad.
ACP Verma has been put in charge of security for a ginormous sparkly diamond that has recently been discovered on an archaeological dig.
Naturally, JK’s mouth starts watering at the sight of it. He could really use the crores of rupees that the diamond would fetch, although of course you have to spend money to make money. He points this out to his group of “investors.”
He orders John to summon “Number Two” for the job.
Besides personally guarding the huge heera, Rajesh is now asked to take charge of stopping a big smuggling ring (JK’s, naturally) which is draining our India of its valuable historical treasures and replacing them with cocaine and large amounts of smuggled gold (so we are informed by Iftekhar and a band of Interpol agents. FAB!).
Rajesh has a fiancee, the delectably fashionable Rekha (Sharmila Tagore). She is also a bit of a prankster: we meet her when she enters Rajesh’s office and holds him up at gunpoint, then is knocked out by his hapless constable Lurkuram (Deven Verma). Lurkuram is hankering for a promotion and is mortified to discover that he has bashed his superior’s lady love on the noggin.
Meanwhile (there is a lot of dizzying bouncing around in this story), Shankar has won a substantial amount of money gambling from a man named Tony (Manmohan) at a club owned by sexy Rita (Helen!)—and Tony can’t pay.
He makes a phone call to a a very young-looking woman, who turns out to be Rekha’s mother (um, okay!) as JK and John listen in through some switchboard shenanigans which I don’t understand.
Tony has been blackmailing Rekha’s Maa for years, having trapped her into thinking that she murdered a man (David—who is very much alive) who had broken into her house. She agrees to meet Tony, but drives off a cliff to her death after being misdirected by a detour sign put out by JK and John.
Rekha is surprised when someone claiming to be her father Raja (Ashok Kumar, wearing the worst wig in a film chock full of bad ones) shows up to perform the last rites. Her father had been missing for many years, since Rekha was a little girl. He is greeted ecstatically by old family retainer Ramu and explains where he’s been all this time.
Rekha is initially loath to have anything to do with him, but after a tearful apologetic speech and some emotional blackmail she crumbles.
Her policeman fiance is a little more skeptical, worried that the old man is a fraud. His suspicions are heightened when three creditors show up demanding payment of money that Raja owes them. Raja himself is nowhere to be seen, and Ramu informs Rajesh that he has gone to *gasp* a kotha. The old rascal is busy romancing lovely Padma Khanna with a qawwali.
I sigh happily. Constable Lurkuram is in the audience, and when he discovers that Raja is Rekha’s father a penny drops: he recognizes the old guy as a fraud with a long long police record.
Rajesh tracks Raja down in his new room in Rekha’s house. Raja’s bedroom is beyond spectacular: I *want* the pompom lampshade, the leopard print throw, the mirrors on the wall, the chandelier, the television…and maybe even Rekha’s bell-bottomed pantsuit!
Raja confesses all, and then drops a further bombshell. Before realizing that Rajesh was his daughter’s fiance, he says, he committed the biggest crime of his life: he stole the fabulous diamond while it was in Rajesh’s custody. The one now on display in the museum, he confesses, is a fake that he left in the real one’s place—and experts are due to visit the museum in a few days to assess the diamond’s value.
When Rajesh agrees to switch the real diamond back for the fake one to save Rekha’s daddy’s hide, I roll my eyes, although I feel better about his chances when I realize that the museum guards are all comedians (Birbal, Jankidas, Brahmachari, Agha, Anoop Kumar, Bhagwan).
Many “comic” scenes unfortunately ensue, and a ridiculous Masala Death Trap almost barbecues our hero and heroine, but the diamond is eventually replaced and they escape with Raja’s help. He takes the fake diamond from Rajesh and throws it into the ocean.
But Rajesh and Rekha’s wedding a few days later is interrupted when Rajesh is arrested by the Commissioner himself: the diamond now in the museum is a fake, and Rajesh was caught in action on a museum camera. Old man Raja is nowhere to be seen, but Rajesh manages to escape from police custody on his baraat horse!
Elsewhere, Raja emerges from the sea with the real diamond in his possession, and finds Shankar waiting for him on his boat.
Raja is JK’s “Number Two”—and what JK wants, Shankar wants too. But Raja manages to elude him, jumping back into the sea with the diamond. Shankar is devastated when he learns that his friend Rajesh is on the run from the police, and he vows to keep looking for Raja and the diamond. Then the police find a mutilated (hit by a train) body wearing Raja’s clothes and carrying his possessions (except the diamond). JK is livid when he discovers that his “Number Two” is dead, with no sign of the diamond, and he decides that ACP Verma must indeed have stolen it.
Is Raja really dead? If not, where is he? Is he Rekha’s long-lost father, or not? Can Rajesh, Rekha or Shankar find him and prove Rajesh’s innocence? Or will they be trapped in JK’s web first? What has happened to Shankar’s brother Shyam—will they ever be reunited? If you are prepared for a lot more dizzying plot twists, seventies fashion (maxi dresses! loud scarves!) (and Raaj Kumar’s own brand of knotted-at-the-waist “colourful blouses”), and are willing to suspend all your believability and continuity requirements, you will enjoy Ek Se Badhkar Ek. Kalyanji Anandji’s songs are a perfectly funky accompaniment, especially Helen’s number (the title song) and a fun tribal dance for Sharmila. Plus, one of my favorite elements in any story: